A Stumble May Prevent a Fall :: Getting back on track when we experience a misstep

Strongly considered changing the name of this blog to Coffee.Coffee.Repeat after the past two weeks. Seriously the amount of coffee consumed over long work days in Amsterdam and the whirlwind trip to the States with a five hour time difference has been challenging. It’s probably because I am so regimented (rigid) in my sleep schedule normally that I find adjusting to time zones so brutal. But aside from the copious amounts of caffeine, I cannot complain about a thing. The trip was pretty much perfect. It was sunny and warm, with lots of time with Jon’s family and some friends over meals and walks and coffee (obviously). I did some shopping for clothes, workout gear and healthy foods. And naturally, I built in plenty of time for activity as well – I loved my morning treks around Lincoln Woods with my mother in law, ridiculously early home barre workouts and the classes I was able to sneak in between meetups. It was an exceptionally rejuvenating experience despite the jet lag.

Typically I try to observe a strict “one-Americano-per-day” decree, except possibly on the weekends when I get wild and crazy with two every now and then. But this trip was a planned exception. While I was preparing, I had originally decided that since I was only going to be there for such a short amount of time, it wasn’t really “worth it” to even change my normal sleep and wake schedule (EVERY day 10-10:30 PM bedtime to 5-5:30 AM GMT rise). I casually mentioned this to Julette, my Irish partner in crime, who innocently enough asked what time that would translate to while there. As soon as I said aloud that I would be up at 12 AM and going to bed by 5 PM, I knew that was NOT going to work. So this was an opportunity to challenge myself. I am nearly addicted to my routine and normal schedule, but I knew that in order for me, and others around me, to be able to enjoy my time there, I would have to be a bit more flexible.

And I don’t regret that decision in the least. I take great pride in my usual status as an Upholder Extreme, but it was of course well worth it to adjust. However, my the continued higher level of caffeine consumption after returning home, reminded me of the fact that even longstanding habits can be discouragingly fragile, even for those things that we truly want to do or enjoy. And now halfway through September, you are hopefully building up strong habits to support your Fall Resolutions, but it is important to know that you may encounter some bumps along the way. And when you do, it’s important to know how to get back on track.

Of course a small stumble off the path of your healthy habits journey is really not a big deal, except when “a minor misstep turns into a major binge, in what’s known as the ‘abstinence violation effect:’ [including thoughts like] ‘I broke my diet by eating this one mini-cupcake, so now I’m going to eat the whole box.’ (Gretchen Rubin, Better Than Before). Psychologist Roy Baumeister, who studies willpower extensively, explains that this can happen in a variety of arenas within our lives (exercise, eating, screen time, spending, etc.) when we give into a craving for a treat or day off or exception and our brain automatically attempts to persuade us that all is lost and if we are going to fail, we may as well go out with a bang. So while you legitimately may have missed your barre class on Monday because you weren’t feeling well, you may be more tempted to also skip Wednesday, because you are behind on your laundry, and then also Friday, because “oh well, I already missed my 3x per week goal, so I may as well wait until Monday.” Psychologically this loophole works because #freshstart, but it can also carry on for virtually forever. In our minds, tomorrow is always a better time to start than today. Unfortunately, tomorrow may never come and for me, next week sounds like a great time to cut back on coffee…

But another important thing to remember when you experience a hiccup in your routine or stumble in some way, is to show yourself some grace. Research shows that people who spend less time beating themselves up and feeling guilt, showing compassion to themselves after a failure are better able to start over and regain self-control. It’s part of the process and as Melissa Hartwig articulates in Food Freedom Forever, “over time and with dedication to the process, [your] habits will stick and you’ll be on the [right track] for longer and longer stretches of time – but it doesn’t happen overnight, and slips are expected.” My extremely wise friend Debbie once described life and growth as less linear and more spiral.   As we continue to grow, we do often (and frustratingly) come up against the same struggle over and over, but each time, it’s a bit easier to overcome that obstacle as the spiral becomes more increasingly narrow and we learn from past successes and failures. When we look at things with a growth mindset, we can see that the English proverb may be true and that “a stumble may prevent a fall.”

So stick with it! A stumble is not a fall and with commitment to yourself and your goals it will become easier with time to maintain your habits or regain your composure after a little misstep.

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